BURTONSVILLE — Throughout the season, the Mt. Hebron coaching staff has emphasized the importance of playing unselfish lacrosse.
That selflessness would be particularly important in Saturday afternoon’s Class 3A state semifinal against top-seeded Linganore and its goalie Jackson Curtis, one of the best goalies the Vikings have faced this season.
They executed their game plan flawlessly, methodically moving the ball around and working for the best shot in an 11-6 win over the Lancers at Paint Branch High School. No. 5 seed Mt. Hebron advances to its second consecutive 3A state championship game and awaits a rematch with No. 2 Severna Park, which defeated the Vikings, 9-6, in last year’s title game and 13-8 earlier this season. The teams will square off Thursday at 6 p.m. at Stevenson University.
No better sequence epitomized that patient offensive approach than their final goal of the first half. Mt. Hebron (13-5) rotated the ball from side-to-side, possessing it for over two minutes. Then, with the clock dwindling down, Cooper Stockenberg fired a dart from behind the net to Maverick Smith, who, with time and room, took the shot and placed it in the top of the net to push the Vikings’ advantage to 5-1 just before halftime.
“I think one thing that [assistant] coach Matt Haley has really taught us over the past couple of weeks is the first look might not be the look,” Smith said. “When we keep moving it and moving it and in that case we had the ball for a while and we were just waiting for that look. Cooper was at ‘X’; I saw the gap and I was open.
“I was hoping he’d see me and he did. I just put it away. It’s knowing that the first shot is not necessarily going to be the good shot every play. It’s about waiting for the right shot every possession, which is really important and makes our offense special.”
However, Linganore (13-2) struck first on Shawn Eisenhart’s bounce shot with a man advantage. Continuing to control possession, the Vikings closed the first half with five straight goals, four of which came in the second quarter. Keegan Ryan started the run with a goal in transition on Aiden Hauf’s feed after a turnover.
Then, the Vikings dominated in the second. Smith scored early in the period, with Will Kettering finding a crease on the back side with a man advantage. Stockenberg and Smith added tallies, giving Mt. Hebron all of the momentum heading into halftime with Doug Cohen’s dominance on faceoffs playing an integral part.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Cohen said of winning faceoffs. “Faceoffs are all about hustle, and I think it’s about who wants it more. He was countering a lot, so there were a lot of ground balls. Me and the wings talked before every faceoff what we’re doing, where we’re lining up. It’s a lot of pride in seeing that we wanted it more today.”
Stockenberg pushed Mt. Hebron’s lead to five midway through the third, but soon after Linganore’s offense broke an over 25-minute drought without a goal. Eisenhart and Maddox Levinson scored quick goals, bringing the Lancers back within three. However, Ryan answered back for Mt. Hebron. He scored back-to-back goals, the first with a man advantage, pushing the Vikings lead to five after three quarters.
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After Linganore cut it to three early in the fourth, Ryan made sure that was the closest the Lancers would get. The junior scored his fourth and fifth goals of the evening on feeds from Rich Tangires and Stockenberg, extending the lead to 10-5.
“It’s huge, this year we’ve always done a good job of answering,” Ryan said. “That’s a credit to our coaches. Staying composed is a big thing for us, just making sure that we don’t get down on ourselves if they make a run because it’s a game of runs. They’ll have their runs, but we’ll respond back.”
Fittingly, Mt. Hebron salted away the clock at the end, once again showing their patience. Then came the final horn when Smith let out an emphatic “Let’s go!” and sophomore goalie Luca LeClaire jumped into the arms of his close defenders.
The Vikings, now with a much different roster, once again return to the season’s biggest stage with another opportunity to capture their first state title since 2006.
“I think that our team believes that we can play with anybody and our coaching staff believes that we will put them in the right spots to do that,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike McCarthy said. “I honestly believe that we have no fear. Our team will go play whoever and we’re going to play as hard as we can and be as physical as we can. If you give us a chance or let us stay in the game, we’ll capitalize. We just have some clutch kids.”
Goals: MH — Keegan Ryan 5, Cooper Stockenberg 3, Maverick Smith 2, Will Kettering 1; L — Shawn Eisenhart 3, Maddox Levinson 2, Cody Griffis 1.
Saves: MH — Luca LeClaire 8; L — Jackson Curtis 8